Shop smart when going back to school this fall on a budget

Budgeting and research help parents save on back to school shopping.

stephanie yates 2018 expertsStephanie Yates, Ph.D.Back-to-school season is right around the corner, and it is a time when many parents are left scrambling to buy classroom supplies and an updated wardrobe for a growing kid along with paying registration and sports fees.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Regions Institute for Financial Education Director Stephanie Yates, Ph.D., provides insight into how parents can use budgeting to plan and save on back-to-school items this fall, along with tools that can help school groups raise funds.

According to Yates, an associate professor of finance in UAB’s Collat School of Business, back-to-school shopping can be burdensome for many families who do not have the funds to spend a lot of money at one time.

“That’s why budgeting is key to shopping smart and saving as much as possible,” Yates said. “Families who prepare and are knowledgeable about sales and different offers out there really benefit from the budget processing.”

For example, she said, “A big mistake parents make is to look at this shopping event as strictly back-to-school and not as the entire school year. Your family will likely run out of school supplies before the year is over, and this may be the only time of year they are on sale, so you should stock up now if you can.”

Yates offers five tips to stay within a back-to-school budget:

  • Create an estimated cost list. Look at your student’s school supplies list, estimate the total costs of basic purchases, and set aside funds for your shopping trip. Determine how many of each item your student will need so that you do not end up overbuying items and stocking up on supplies that will never get used.
  • Know all your options. Not every deal is found at a big box store. Thrift stores are priced low, and many offer additional discounts. Auction websites are another platform that often offers lower prices on new and used items. If your child wears a uniform, check with your school to see if they re-sell previously worn uniforms.
  • Look online first. Shopping online can be convenient for the busy parent or college student who does not want to make a few extra trips to the store, and it is a great way to compare prices and find coupon codes. Consider the cost of shipping and taxes when making higher-priced purchases. Also check the return policy in case you do not really need something or end up having to buy a different style, brand or item. Look for the option of buying online and picking up at your local store to avoid shipping fees.
  • Shop with a gift card. A major benefit to using a gift card is that it can be used online and in the store. Perhaps even more important is that it forces you to stick to a set budget based on the allotted dollar figure on the card.
  • Shop for supplies during tax-free weekends. Alabama’s tax-free weekend is July 20-22 this year. The weekend serves shoppers who want to save money on school supplies and other school-related purchases. You could save up to 7 percent on your entire purchase by planning your school supplies shopping trip during a tax holiday. There are also tax breaks on clothing and electronics. Find out more about Alabama’s guidelines on the Alabama Department of Revenue’s website.
  • Watch for sales. Many retailers are offering 48-hour sales in conjunction with tax-free weekend, which potentially increases savings.
  • Coupons are good online and in-store. When adding coupons on top of sale prices and tax-free discounts, there are great deals to be had. Websites like Retail Me Not are great for finding coupon codes. Keep an eye on mailers and newspaper circulars for in-store savings.

With many schools’ enforcing uniform policies, it is important to know these policies and what is in your child’s closet. Yates suggests buying a few basic clothing items in case there is a sudden change in policy and your child does not have to wear uniforms anymore.

Beyond school supplies, school organizations and groups ask for donations and funds to support extracurricular activities. Yates recommends getting creative with how these funds are raised.

  • Connect with retailers and restaurants that donate a percentage of sales back to organizations. There are apps, like Planet Fundraiser, that do the work. All consumers have to do is submit receipts.
  • Get creative with fundraising. What talents does the group possess? How can this be used to leverage fundraising? For example, an athletic group could conduct camp for younger children. A choral group could seek out paid opportunities to perform. An art group could sell their creations to raise money.
  • Research grants and funding available from the government to support your organization. There may be scholarships or government funds available for groups that go unused each year.